A pumped up Chris Kreider celebrates his 23rd goal of the season with Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox. It was the the winner in a 3-1 Rangers win over the Blue Jackets. AP Photo credit New York Rangers via Getty Images
For most of the deciding period, nothing was separating these teams. In a hotly contested divisional match-up, the Rangers had to rely on the hot goaltending of Alex Georgiev. They also did a solid job checking in front of him despite giving up 37 shots without a banged up Tony DeAngelo. Good thing Marc Staal was able to return from the flu. They likely don’t win without him or the effort Brendan Smith gave in his second straight appearance on defense.
The difference proved to be special teams. In the second period, the Rangers successfully killed off a double minor on Pavel Buchnevich for hooking and unsportsmanlike conduct. A questionable call that wasn’t nearly as bad as the phantom trip they made on Eric Robinson in the first which had John Tortorella fuming. He would have good reason to be upset with less than four minutes left in regulation when Chris Kreider scored as a power play expired to give the Rangers a 2-1 lead over the Blue Jackets.
In their third game over four nights all on the road, the Rangers made it a perfect three-for-three on a road trip by defeating the Blue Jackets 3-1 in Nationwide Arena. By getting the latest clutch goal from Kreider, who’s now up to 23 and 17 since 12/8, the Blueshirts are alive in the playoff race. They took advantage of an undisciplined bench minor on Columbus that had Tortorella letting out a few expletives. While his penalty killing unit kept the top Rangers power play unit to the outside, they ran out of gas at the end.
Mika Zibanejad had just enough time to find Kreider in his office for a quick one-timer that beat Elvis Merzlikins with 3:11 left. It seemed like the entire two minutes were spent passing the puck around. Artemi Panarin heard it from the crowd as he passed up two good opportunities to shoot. Instead, he passed for teammates. The timing was off. It looked like it would be a missed chance. I wondered why Buchnevich wasn’t out there. They could’ve used another lefty shot, and he had the only goal for the guests up till that point.
That’s precisely the moment Kreider scored the big game-winner to give the Rangers a season high four-game win streak. With Merzlikins off for a extra attacker, Ryan Strome won a key face-off and was the recipient of a good pass from Hartford recall Phil Di Giuseppe that allowed him to seal the victory into an open net with 1:11 remaining. His 14th goal gave him points in four straight. As he’s come back to life, so has the team. That’s five points (2-3-5) in four games during the winning streak.
Strome is Panarin’s center. It was important for him to get going after a slump. Up to 49 points including a career high 35 assists in 57 games, two more points will give him a new career best for a season. Previously, he recorded 50 points (17-33-50) with the Islanders in ’14-15 as a 21-year old in his second year. Back then, he was a former fifth overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft with higher expectations. The last year and a half has changed him for the better. Getting moved from Edmonton for Ryan Spooner was a wake up call. He’s been a good Ranger producing at a respectable level. Up for salary arbitration this summer as a restricted free agent, will he be part of the future?
It all depends on how things shake out. It won’t be an easy decision for Jeff Gorton or John Davidson to make. DeAngelo is having a career year with 43 points (13-30-43) before missing his first game with a shoulder injury due to a hit he delivered last night at Minnesota. Both are extremely close and in line for significant raises.
Given the situation with Kreider, who’s now on a tear as he is on the verge of unrestricted free agency, the Rangers have a difficult choice to make. The chemistry between the trio of Buchnevich, Kreider and Zibanejad is unmistakable. Not just on the ice, but off it. They are a legitimate top line when Buchnevich asserts himself the way he has been. That’s why he’s been scoring goals. He’s turned his season around by listening to the coaching staff. He’s not giving away shifts like before. That includes defensively and physically where he’s been much more engaged.
While it’s a good development, this win isn’t possible without the brilliance of Georgiev. He was really locked in. Playing a second consecutive night against a team he’s had success against, he made plenty of key saves to make sure his team came out on top. It was a good goaltender duel between Merzlikins and Georgiev. Each had to make difficult saves throughout. But it was mostly Georgiev late due to facing a Jackets onslaught the final two periods. The only goal he gave up came on a fluky shot from the dangerous Oliver Bjorkstrand.
With over a minute to go in the second period, Bjorkstrand had a loose puck come right to him with Jacob Trouba right there. He snuck a backhand through traffic by Georgiev for his team-leading 19th to tie the game with 68 seconds left from Gus Nyquist and Scott Harrington. It was a smart play by a good player. The same guy who sniped two past Igor Shesterkin at The Garden including the winner with 34 ticks left in regulation during the last meeting.
Despite being badly outshot, the Rangers knew if they played better and could win a period versus a shorthanded Columbus team that doesn’t have much offense, they would come out with a win. That’s exactly how it played out.
Until the Jackets took the bench minor, it had the look of another closely fought one goal contest that would require overtime to decide a winner. The Rangers didn’t play great by any stretch. They relied heavily on Georgiev, who made some dandies including a big leg save on a Nyquist rebound point blank to keep it tied. He made Quinn’s decision to go back-to-back with him look good.
In the first, it was a Buchnevich tip in off a Trouba point shot that gave the Blueshirts an early 1-0 lead just 22 seconds in. His 13th goal gave him goals in two straight and extended his point streak to three (2-2-4). Since Jan. 21, Buchnevich has six goals and four assists totaling 10 points over the last 10 games. He’s a different player. Now up to 34 points, he has a chance to get 50 for the first time. His career high is 43 (14-29-43) coming in ’17-18. Last year, a strong finish resulted in a career best 21 goals (7 PPG) and 38 points in 64 games. By playing well, he’s boosted his value which I think means he’ll stay put. He doesn’t turn 25 April 17.
It was during the second that Columbus applied the pressure on the Rangers. They had a few good shifts and forced Georgiev into some tough stops. Then came the iffy Buchnevich hold on Zach Werenski that lead to an upset Buchnevich getting an extra two for arguing the call. Fortunately, the penalty kill got it done. They’ve quietly improved under assistant Lindy Ruff. When he got out of the box and to the bench during a stoppage, he gave Ruff and the killers a thumbs up. A sign of a maturing player.
It took some extra effort for Bjorkstrand to tie the game up with 68 seconds remaining. On a strong shift, a Harrington shot that Nyquist deflected went off Georgiev. The puck took a favorable hop to Bjorkstrand, who whirled around and threw a tricky backhand upstairs into the top of the net with Trouba on him. It seems like he and Brady Skjei are always out for these goals. I’m not going to kill them here. It was one of those plays. It took a lot of hustle for Bjorkstrand to score.
In the third, the Rangers cleaned it up by not taking any penalties. The only one they got was the four minutes on Buchnevich they killed. For the most part, the game was interesting due to it being mostly played at five-on-five.
Columbus definitely came out more aggressive looking for the go-ahead goal. It never came due to Georgiev. He was the number one star in my view. I haven’t looked at the official box score because the site is down. He got a break when Boone Jenner hit the goalpost on a shorthanded break. I don’t think it ever was going in due to Georgiev challenging him. But it still was oh so close. He credited the defense overall afterwards.
There were a couple of instances where Buchnevich created opportunities either for himself or teammates. But Merzlikins played well as he has since taking over the starting job on Dec. 27 for Joonas Korpisalo. He’s close to returning. Merzlikins finished with 25 saves.
It took a ill advised too many men on the ice penalty to beat Elvis. Even though they were unable to get much set up due to the stingy box the Blue Jackets played, the Rangers kept the puck in and continued to maintain possession.
That led directly to Adam Fox getting the puck over to Zibanejad, who centered for Kreider’s winner at 16:49. Fox played top unit with DeAngelo out. He’s now up to 31 points (6-25-31). He won’t be up for the Calder due to Cale Makar, Quinn Hughes, Merzlikins And Victor Olofsson. But he’s been brilliant. Fox is a future star on the blueline who will be a top pair guy for a long time.
His rookie partner Ryan Lindgren flies under the radar due to the nuts and bolts. He took a puck to the mouth and kept playing during a huge defensive shift. They’re the best pair this team has. Ironically, they’re birthdays are six days apart. Lindgren AKA The Warrior turned 22 on Feb. 11 while Fox blows out 22 candles on the 17th. How’s that for irony?
Following the empty netter for Strome, Kreider drew a penalty on Nyquist. They passed the puck around until the final buzzer sounded giving them a well deserved victory.
At 30-23-4 (really 30-27) with 64 points, they find themselves seven points out of the wildcard. Columbus and Philadelphia are the teams they’re chasing. Carolina won 5-2 over the Devils to move up to 69 and pull within two. They still have another game to make up.
The issue for the Rangers is the division they play in. The Metro is so much better than the Atlantic. That’s why the stupid wildcard doesn’t work. No matter what, whoever finishes in third place in that god awful division automatically gets in. Even if the Rangers were to somehow finish with the identical amount of points or better and more regulation wins than say Toronto, it won’t matter. They have to beat out the teams ahead of them. Great system.
In terms of what they have coning up during President’s Week, there are the very tough Bruins visiting Madison Square Garden Sunday at 3:30 PM on NBC. Then Wednesday Night at the Blackhawks for another game on NBCSN. They then visit Carolina next Friday and go for the four game sweep. Is that a game Henrik Lundqvist plays in considering his mastery over the Canes?
They have one game remaining with the Blue Jackets on my Dad’s birthday, March 24. They lead the season series 2-1. They have a home-and-home series at the Flyers Feb. 28 and then in MSG Mar. 1. The last meeting is on April Fools Day at The Garden. Whether or not it comes down to that depends on the next five weeks.
Battle Of Hudson Three 🌟
3rd 🌟 Pavel Buchnevich, Rangers (13th of season, led team with 5 shots, +1 in 16:49)
2nd 🌟 Chris Kreider, Rangers (23rd of season at 16:49 for winner plus 🍎 giving him 29 points-17-12-29 in 28 games since 12/8)
1st 🌟 Alex Georgiev, Rangers (36 saves to win a second consecutive night)